The screwed up value chain of cyber security

In “Campaign” Zach Galifianakis makes an amazing comeback on election day with an original approach to politics: he tells the truth.  Despite being 20 points ahead in the polls however he mysteriously loses to his crooked and corrupt opponent.   Nobody wonders why this happens though the movie audience gets treated to a close up of the electronic voting system’s supplier.   It is the same as the lobby sponsoring the winner.

Electronic voting systems seem to be mainly for …backwards countries.  Wherever access to paper or other basic election materials is scant, they are probably better off with a simple electronic voting machine.  If voters can’t read it possibly makes it easier for them to identify with big bright pictures of candidates.  Does that sound condescending?

Well most advanced countries have completely scrapped electronic voting.  Even the ones that invested in it!  And this isn’t just about the U.S. which still remembers well the Gore-Bush tragedy.  (In terms of making the political system credible.)  Ireland actually bought machines but then got rid of them.  Belgium is probably the only advanced country in the world still using electronic voting but that is probably because elo touchsystems was based in Belgium and there are few enough people to double check the result easily!  Everywhere else they seem content on using them retrospectively for things like OCR enabled vote counting or checking.  But at the same time, internet voting soars ahead!

My question however is not “why can’t politician get e-voting right?”  There are numerous technological challenges and all sorts of best practices we are seeing around the world.  Maybe it will happen one day.  No, the real question is “how come we trust electronic transactions for trillion of dollars daily?”

It’s not just about high speed trading or automated monsters of software that take advantage of the crazy complicated world of the stock markets, futures and derivatives.   Even simple things.   Meanwhile in the US today they are more concerned with possible power outages affecting paperless voting systems than viruses or cheating.  Somebody trusts a machine to transfer a million dollars to another bank account but doesn’t trust a similar machine to count responses in a multiple choice question!  And for voting they introduce safeguards like fingerprints (Venezuela), time delays (India) and all sorts of other hi tech wizardry (Estonia).

But still I can log into my computer and transfer all my life’s savings to a another account over the internet?


PS  “Campaign” has an all star cast but is a rather mediocre film.  I wonder if Galifianakis passed a bill about e-voting after becoming congressman…


A new Facebook feature: The “I told you so!” button

Facebook is, essentially, a Content Management System.  (CMS)  Only it is a really, really, extraordinarily bad content management system.   Its search function is rudimentary to say the least.  There is little categorization and even less user generated categorization.  It is almost impossible to find something from the past.

To large degree this is because Facebook’s engineers are obsessed with making the interface impossible to automate.   Any script you might like to have such as “accept all” (friend requests) or “delete all” (messages)  is reverse engineered so as not to work.   It stops people like me from making so many false accounts and conducting experiments to some degree.   Which means the user has to jump through all sorts of unnatural hoops to get anything done.   “Who cares?   Isn’t Facebook just for wasting time and socializing?”  Well, yes, but even when socializing, some of us like to maintain a higher level of discussion.

Case in point.  Surprise, surprise, Lance Armstrong was doped.   Where are those discussion I had about this topic a couple of years back?   Who was that friend that insisted I was being extreme?   Whether I am simply a pedantic friend, or someone actually looking for an old joke in my status updates, this is a practically impossible task right now.   I would have to scroll down my wall for a very very long time and then use my browser’s “search” capabilities.   Depending on the kind of search this would be either difficult or impossible.  Multifactorial searches out of the question.   I can’t ask Facebook things like “probably a year ago, a female friend of a friend commented on something I wrote about homeopathy.  What was the name of the substance she recommended?”

It may seem petty or minor to you.   Some psychological deficiency of mine personally maybe that makes me want to make these things clear all the time.   Or a hypersensitivity to long term trends which I am always searching for.   I studied theory of knowledge at university and tend to make an extra effort to calculate long term odds for anything I see.  Cycling is of course “one of those sports” which is more susceptible to doping.   If you don’t see the point of such functionality, you were probably not around when Zuckerberg announced he wants us all to use Facebook as our digital life store.  Well Mark, do you mind if I organize mine a bit better than you?   It does seem that your main concern is making money and mine would be finding my stuff.



Here is exactly what Tim Cook needs to do with Apple: turn it into IBM!

The thing about us consultants is that we give advice even when nobody asked for it.    The world’s biggest company surely doesn’t need my help.   Even more so since I have historically and openly criticized it at every corner.   But, like my friends always say, I probably have a secret wish to one day buy an iPhone.   So here is my best shot at how this might come to pass:

1. I loved IBM laptops.  In this blog I wrote an almost erotic in intensity elegy.  I still check out the odd Lenovo I see somewhere to see if that keyboard has the old IBM magic, the design details.

2. Tim Cook is essentially an IBM person at heart.  12 pretty important years in his personal development made him so.   IBMers are a breed apart, the corporate ethos was much more intense than Apple those days.

3. IBM hardware was always top quality and slightly more expensive.   You could usually pay 20-30% more for a machine with similar specs.   Remind you of someone?

4. IBM always made conservative decisions about specifications, I/O, software and other components.   Which meant that you have a much better chance to still be relying on the machine even a decade later.  Which justifies the price difference retrospectively many times over.

…and therein is the difference.   I tried to revive an IBM laptop and a top of the range Apple desktop of about the same era.   Started up the IBM, pressed F2, it came back to Windows XP factory settings.  Left it online to update itself and it is ready almost anything.   The Mac impressed my kids more with its massive monitor and fancy hardware.    “We want to play with the one with the Apple!” they chanted as I struggled to prepare it for use at their school.   To no avail.  Getting OS9 to do anything (especially online) requires almost root level hacking skills.   Meanwhile the ΙΒΜ was playing all their latest Flash game favories, YouTube videos, and I could even load up some ancient DOS games I found lying around back from my gaming days twenty years ago.

Anecdotes aside, here is the point:   there will always be a need for high quality hardware.  Even more so if it is matched with great design.   Even more so if it has a tidy ecosystem to make it easier to use.   This does not however require stone walls and proprietary tricks.   We don’t want Apple to invent a new connector for our monitors, much less so for our mobile phones.   We are willing to pay Apple to produce 20-30% more expensive hardware because they have put more effort in its design and quality.   In its ease of use.   In good marketing, which means getting the right people using the platform; it benefits everyone on the platform after all when this happens.

Apple is doing none of this right now.   But Tim Cook has a seriοus personal – leadership problem.   He can’t get people to forget the (inevitable) mistakes he makes like Steve Jobs did.   No glossing over.   He talks simply.   No magic involved.   So why doesn’t he take Apple towards the good old hardworking IBM ways he broke his teeth on?   If he doesn’t, Samsung will.   And I will still prove my friends wrong for another decade by not buying an iPhone for another ten years…